Let’s kill smarketing forever

By: Jon Kane

I hate marketing buzzwords. Other than sounding inescapably lame, they’re often a very glib way of offering a solution to a complicated and nuanced problem. The worst I’ve found in recent years is “smarketing”. As in: when you get sales and marketing integrated, they become a “smarketing” team. Ugh.

Yes, getting sales and marketing teams working together is a noble goal. Yes, getting those two teams rowing in the right (same!) direction can be a key differentiator and provide tremendous returns. But it’s not easy, and it can’t be done quickly. Like any kind of organizational change, it takes time, an understanding of group dynamics and incentives, and it needs processes and systems in place to make it happen.

Sales enablement is a key part of this organizational change. Done right, it increases the marketing team’s understanding of what the sales team needs to be successful, and it helps the sales team feel supported by marketing. It brings visibility to the marketing team’s role in driving new business, validates the work that they do to help growth, and sets expectations on both sides of the relationship. It gets the two teams aligned.

Building a relationship

Generally speaking, there are three stages of a marketing and sales relationship, and sales enablement will help them move from one to the next. Most organizations lie somewhere between these three points.

1. Siloed

At this stage, both teams are working independently. Marketing does its thing without any input or partnership with sales, and then kicks over any leads that it generates. Usually leads are defined as “someone with a pulse and an email address”. Sales ravenously follows up with any lead that they find, prioritizing leads from companies that they recognize, or from within their established networks. Marketing develops content that speaks to the marketplace, but it is never leveraged by the sales team. In fact, sales has zero visibility into what marketing is doing, or why. There’s no sharing of information, no shared goals, no communication other than marketing complaining about sales not following up on leads, and sales complaining about marketing giving them garbage leads.

2. Marketing-led

This is certainly a step forward. Marketing is executing, but is involving sales in the planning, building and running of those campaigns. At what point they are involved varies wildly from one organization to another, usually depending on how open the sales team/person is to collaboration. This can be as small as giving sales a heads up about marketing activities that may reach their existing contacts, to more complex work, such as ABM or events. Both teams are on the same software platforms, and there is some sharing of data between the two. Marketing also starts to involve sales in their content development thinking – either asking them what they need in terms of sales collateral, or asking them questions to help understand prospect pain points better. The complaining starts to turn into healthier feedback communication around lead quality – feedback is given in such a way that it enables improvement and refinement over time.

3. Sales and marketing aligned

The holy grail. Both teams work closely. No marketing campaign happens without some kind of sales involvement, and both teams have bought into shared strategies, processes and systems. Every content asset created by the marketing team is laser-focused to provide the maximum value for prospects, is aligned to speak to different stages of the pipeline, and is widely leveraged by sales executives. Processes have been set up to automate the handover from marketing to sales, and there is broad agreement around what lead quality looks like. Everyone holds hands and sings karaoke together.

The growth in this relationship is typically driven by marketing becoming increasingly focused on enabling the sales team. To start, at the very least, you need shared definitions and expectations to be in place so that both sides can see the value being added, and everyone is talking about (and measuring) the same thing. 

A common vocabulary and knowing what’s coming

To figure out where you’re currently at in your sales and marketing alignment, go to someone in your marketing team and someone in your sales team and ask them the same question:

“How do you define a marketing qualified lead?”

When you get different answers, you’re in trouble.

For any of this to work, there needs to be shared standards and shared expectations. Without either, you can’t report consistently, you can’t agree on quality, you can’t share goals, and you can’t deliver results. Getting everyone on the same page is a critical first step. That page must include:

  1. How do we define the different stages of our pipeline?
  2. What does our ideal customer look like?
  3. What stages are owned by marketing, which are owned by sales, and which (if any) are shared?
  4. How quickly will sales follow up on leads given to them by marketing?
  5. How does sales qualify any leads given to them by marketing?
  6. What happens when a lead is considered not ready by sales?

Without the organization having a unified view on these things, there will always be gaps and there will always be friction and disagreement. This alignment needs to start from the leadership of both teams, and then be emphasized at every level so that there is consistency.

This service level agreement (or SLA) is the foundation of the relationship between the two teams. Trust is built by both teams delivering expected results, and being accountable to each other. Both have to be held to the standards set in the SLA, and it’s only through having a track record of delivering, that sales and marketing will start to recognize the important contributions of the other.

There will always be friction between marketing and sales teams. Even with the best of intentions, and complete alignment of goals and incentives, there will always be a competitive relationship between the two. That said, if you can get both of these highly driven teams pulling in the same direction and invested in each other’s success, it can be a key driver to a stronger pipeline. Not only will it increase the quality of lead generation, it will also increase the ROI of your technology investments and make life more bearable for both sales executives and marketers. Just don’t call it smarketing.


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Jon Kane

Jon Kane

Director of Client Service

Jon has spent his career proving how a deep understanding of customer needs can be combined with creativity and technology to help drive real business results. At Brainrider, a B2B digital marketing agency, he leads a team of B2B marketers dedicated to creating strong client relationships while helping to build their marketing and sales pipeline. Jon’s experience of B2B marketing, web, content and technology allows him to provide key strategic input and guidance to clients of all sizes and in all industries.